Love Story (1970)
director: Arthur Hiller | runtime: 1h 40mins | Drama, Romance
Oliver (Ryan O’Neal) and Jenny (Ali MacGraw), despite coming from very different backgrounds, manage to fall in love during their time at college. With their relationship continuing into their young adult life, much to the dismay of Oliver’s father (Ray Milland), they must learn to fend for themselves.
The term ‘tear-jerker’ frequents a lot of the cinematic landscape, a sub-genre that has often struggled to find much quality over the years. For the most part these films have one idea and one goal, to leech off of the very basic human emotion without really exploring anything in depth, and hastily reaching the promised ‘gut-punch’ at the films climax (think Marley & Me ). But through the mist you do find some gems that earn their right to tears, Terms of Endearment (1983) and The Notebook (2004) are prime examples of high quality tear-jerkers, both exploring a little deeper than you’d expect and rightly earning the emotional response you get out of them, and joining them on that list is the iconic American romance, Love Story.
Now coming up to 50 years old, Love Story is relatively forgotten to most audiences so it’s surprising to think that this was the highest grossing film of 1970. It really doesn’t stand against the very best of that year, with the likes of Altman’s M*A*S*H (1970) and Bob Rafelson’s Five Easy Pieces (1970) being the standouts, but as tear-jerkers go there is a justification for this films merit, using very basic romance and saddening tropes to affect along with an iconic score of it’s own to give it a little originality. But as good a moment as this film has, there is a wall that it just can’t seem to break through, not really exploring the full affect of some of the films story, and relying too heavily on it’s cheesy dialogue to keep you gripped.
Despite being a romance the film does hint at a commentary (albeit a quiet one) on the class system, and it’s divide. As Oliver’s initial pursuit with Jenny eventually leads to success, he tries to introduce her to his family who just so happen to be some of the richest people in the country. But after a pretty short confrontation with his Father and a small internal dispute between the happy couple these themes of class and societal structure are lost in the chimes of Francis Lai’s score and the sappy interactions that fill out the majority of the film, like the now iconic line “love means never having to say you’re sorry” among some of the cheesiest work to appear. While the sappiness is often reminiscent of a lost-era romance (without the charm), you just can’t help but feel a little disappointed by the lost potential.
But first and foremost, this is a romance. Every romantic film, whether it be comedy or drama, does ride on the chemistry and quality of it’s two leading stars. Luckily for Love Story they build the relationship well, using Jenny’s wit and Oliver’s overzealous ideals to build a foundation for their relationship, letting you buy in to the over-the-top tone of the romantic scenes, and even the sad scenes. Despite the two leads doing a pretty passable job, it seems strange to say that both performances were nominated for Oscars (in fact the film was nominated for several). Ali MacGraw handles the quick-wit of her character well but struggles to find any real range, and Ryan O’Neal really only deserves props for his big scenes near the end of the film. But for the majority of the film, as we ride along with their young marriage, most of the scenes are relying solely on basic delivery and don’t really justify such high praise. Having said that, there is a certain niche when it to performing in ‘tear-jerkers’, trying to strike a balance of tone while teetering on the cheesiness of the story, and for that the entire cast deserve some praise.
The truth is that Love Story does follow those basic emotional tropes that make movies so popular, and while they aren’t the characteristics of masterpieces, they still have a role to play in the escapism of movies. So despite time not being good to this film, it still earns that gut-wrenching moment everyone is waiting for, thanks to good chemistry within it’s cast and a score that only heightens the emotionality.